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Is Turkey’s Arms Industry Changing Equations?

Word out of Turkey is that Roketsan—Turkey’s domestic missile manufacture—has just concluded a nearly $200 million deal with the United Arab Emirates. Turkey has made no secret of its desire to build up its arms industry. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has, for example, beseeched the Obama administration to provide Turkey with drones at the same time that a Turkish armament company was trying to develop Turkish drones for export.

Turkey has taken an increasingly activist approach to the Middle East. It has supported the radical al-Nusra Front, designated a terror group by the Obama administration, because it prefers violent jihadists over secular Kurds. (Last week, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu dismissed those who labeled the al-Qaeda affiliate “Jihadists” as little more than “American neo-cons and Israelis.” The fact that Turkey is willing to arm radical Islamists at odds with U.S. strategic interests certainly marks a new era.

The Roketsan deal should also raise concern: While the United Arab Emirates is a U.S. ally, it is also the trans-shipment point for contraband heading to Iran. The Turkish government makes no secret of its solidarity with Hamas; the time is not long off that Turkey might supply Hamas with weaponry instead of just cash.

It’s not just U.S. national security at stake. As part of his pre-confirmation conversion on pretty much all his previous positions, defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel has affirmed the importance of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME). Traditionally, the Pentagon calculates the QME relative to U.S. arms sales to Arab countries. Gone are the days, however, when the United States (and perhaps France and Great Britain) on one hand, and the Soviet Union (and perhaps East Germany and Czechoslovakia) supplied their respective Arab client states with arms. Today, it’s a free-for-all. Turkey supports Islamists and terrorists. Sweden is ready to cash in on the action. When it comes to Israel’s QME, the situation has gone metaphorically from middle school arithmetic to multi-variable calculus.

Alas, while Hagel says he will maintain Israel’s QME, neither he nor Obama have suggested their commitment is going to take into account other regional states that are increasingly willing to flood Arab armies with hi-tech weaponry with little or no regard to what they might mean for Israel’s ability to defend itself.


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